Adventures of Cookie the Stray, Chapter 10
Dolly woke first and stood up on her hind legs to peer over the edge of the box. Her mother, Queenie, lay at the foot of the bed guarding both the sleeping woman and the box where Dolly and Jeff spent the night. She whimpered softly hoping her mom would again come near enough to let her nurse. It had been some time since Queenie stopped letting the puppies feed on her milk. Dolly missed the comfort of snuggling close to her mom and feeling the warmth of her soft fur. Queenie’s eyes opened but she made no move toward the box.
Five seconds later, the alarm clock blared out a stream of high pitched static. Connie grabbed for the snooze button until she realized her whereabouts. She located the off switch on the radio and grabbed the TV remote. Eager for news on the story she’d missed last night, she flipped past an old forties movie and someone singing about toilet paper before finding a news channel. She drummed her fingers, eager for the announcer to move on to the real news. Standing at the edge of their box, now both puppies whimpered for her attention.
“Yes, I know what you want,” Connie said to all three dogs. She slipped on the jeans she’d draped across the only chair in the room and pulled on her shirt from yesterday. A quick trip into the bathroom and she came out with Queenie’s leash.
The TV meteorologist, in a parody of a game show host, gestured towards a colorful map, pointing out a storm headed in their direction. The whining of the puppies became more urgent as he droned on about the weather.
“Okay, let’s go for a walk,” she said, which started the dogs turning circles of excitement. Connie attached the leash to Queenie’s collar and tucked one pup under each arm. With the leash securely around her wrist, she threw her sweater over her shoulders and slammed the door behind them. It closed with a loud bang that made Connie jump. Thankfully, no one else seemed to be up this early. At the edge of the parking lot were long empty spaces where big rigs had rolled out before dawn. Connie and the dogs headed out beyond the silent parking lot to the grassy area behind the buildings.
She’d chosen this place on purpose, knowing her husband would never expect her to stay somewhere like this. The motel was close to a well-traveled highway, but it was clean and cheap and allowed dogs in the rooms, unlike the expensive hotels he preferred with fancy boarding kennels on the grounds. She planned to stay only the one night, just long enough to sleep and shower before moving on. Invigorated by a few hours rest, they would soon hit the highway and make time on the road.
She allowed Dolly and Jeff to play for a few minutes in the grass hoping they would burn off enough energy to tire them for the long drive ahead. Queenie stayed close by carefully watching every angle of their surroundings. With their business done and playtime over, the dogs followed their mistress back to the room where they watched her fish through the pockets of her jeans. She swore quietly when the search came up empty.
“I must’ve dropped the key in the grass,” she said looking around the door. She scooped up the pups and frantically began searching the places where they had walked.
Minutes hurled by before Connie spotted the key gleaming on the sidewalk next to the laundry room. She reached over to pick it up shifting both puppies under one arm. When she rose up, a hulking man stood in the center of the path blocking their way. Queenie bristled, growling low in her throat as she strained against the leash.
“Not very friendly is he?” the man said in a voice gravelly from smoking.
“She’s very protective of me and of her pups,” Connie said, eager to return to the relative safety of the room. There was something familiar about him that she couldn’t quite place
“Oh, it’s a she, is it?” he corrected. “Nice looking pups.”
His gaze shifted to the puppies dangling in her arms lingering a little too long on her blouse. Tense seconds passed before he ducked back into the laundry room and allowed them to pass. His eyes followed as they walked away.
At the door, she set Dolly and Jeff down by her feet where they waited obediently with Queenie. Connie slipped the key into the doorknob but with that small nudge the door pushed open. Startled, Connie stepped back and glanced around. There was no one on the sidewalk or in the parking lot. It was still early morning with the sun only starting to peep over the horizon. Its weak beams glinted off windows of cars in the lot.
“I know that door slammed shut when we left,” she told Queenie as they went into the dark room. She flipped on the light switch, not remembering the light was off at the base of the lamp. Cautiously, she made her way to the night stand pulling open the drapes as she walked past the windows. Weak sunlight streamed through the window lighting up dust motes hanging in the air. She glanced quickly around. Nothing seemed out of place. Her purse remained undisturbed on the cheap dresser by the TV. She checked her wallet to make sure the cash she carried was still inside. It was.
“If someone was in here, I know you guys would be going berserk,” she said more for her own benefit than to the dogs. She crept toward the bathroom and reached around the wall to snap on the light jerking her arm back to safety. There was no one behind the door. Feeling more at ease, she glanced down at the toilet and saw a cigarette butt floating in the water. It had been a long while since she indulged, but it was not her brand and she hadn’t smoked in the room.
The bed was still unmade, which meant housekeeping hadn’t left the door unlocked. Determined to leave as soon as possible, she put the suitcase back on the bed, clicked open the metal latches and reached into the side panel for some socks. There was something heavy holding them down. Stretching open the elastic of the side panel, she saw a revolver nestled among the neatly rolled up socks. It belonged to Jeb. As little as she knew about guns, she could tell it was loaded. One thing was absolutely clear in her mind. It wasn’t there last night when she fetched the dog’s food and bowls, although, she had been really exhausted. Could it have been there all along? She began to doubt herself.
Her knees buckled. She sat down on the bed to steady herself while she thought this out. She hadn’t packed it so someone else had. Or had he put it inside her hidden suitcase before she left him? “Why would he put it there?”
The dogs danced around in the room, sniffing and exploring, eager for their breakfast after the romp. Queenie studied her mistress, tipping her head as Connie got up and closed the blackout drapes. Darkness and privacy returned to the stale and humid room.
She decided not to handle the gun. She’d never touched it so her fingerprints shouldn’t be on it unless she touched it. She used one of her socks to pick up the revolver. Using another sock, she pushed the cartridge aside and dumped the bullets out on the bedspread. Why were there only five? The gun holds six? She held the gun up to her nose and sniffed. There was a faint trace of spent gunpowder. Pulling a plastic laundry bag from the closet, she wrapped the bag around the gun and stashed it in the bottom of her travel valise under the makeup tray, then locked the case.
She checked that the chain guard was on the door before she fed the dogs and took a quick shower. With a towel wrapped around her wet hair, she threw her things into the suitcase with the dogs’ stuff, not bothering to put on makeup.
Before opening the door, she made sure no one was near their car. She reversed the process of the night before. She clicked the remote from inside the room to open the trunk, then, carried out the suitcase and valise. Outside in the warmth of the sunlight she began to feel better. She came back and separated the wrestling puppies and carried them and their box to the back seat before slamming the door. Queenie followed and jumped into the front seat through the open driver’s side door. Connie returned for a quick check of the room testing the door as she went back in. She had to use the key to get back in. The door had pulled snugly shut without any extra effort, just as it had earlier that morning.
She pushed aside her thoughts about the lost key, the unlocked door and the cigarette butt, eager to leave this place as quickly as possible. Under the office portico, she hopped out and dropped the key into a metal slot by the door.
Connie didn’t notice the late-model sedan idling in the parking lot that pulled out a few moments behind them as they left the motel heading for the highway.
© 2017 Peg Cole